What do you do as a triathlete who can’t run?
The last time I did a proper run session was before Kona last year. Since then I’ve run 350 miles (just over 10 miles a week), 52 of which were in Ironman races. Not entirely how I want my training diary to read!
My last race was Ironman South Africa at the start of April. I went into it with an injury and despite putting together a fairly solid run on the day knew that afterwards I needed to give my body the chance to reset. I can’t spend the whole season nursing injuries and ‘winging’ races without run training and figured taking a step back now might help me get back to my best for the second half of the season. Even though I didn’t really have a choice it was a tough call to make.
No-one likes taking step backs, least of all me!
But I bit the bullet and took a proper break from running. No trying to run and no ‘test jogs’. I hated doing this. I love running and I love racing and it’s far less fun being an injured triathlete who can only swim and bike and can’t race. But in the grand scheme of things it’s far from being the end of the world and, ever the optimist, I hope a break at this point in the season will lead to a strong finish. As in ironman racing, pro triathletes have to pace their seasons!
So what have I been doing while I’ve not been running?
The best bit has definitely been that I’ve had an excuse to do more biking. Biking has always been my favourite of the 3 sports, particularly when the sun is shining and I’ve really enjoyed doing some more bike miles, particularly mixing it up with the roadies and jousting on the club rides on my road bike. I’m not good at this surging kind of riding but love the thrill of trying to hang on, getting dropped and fighting my way back on. I’ve seen heart rate highs I’ve never seen before on a bike, which I figure can only be a good thing and I’ve loved the ‘just for the hell of it’ rides I’ve been doing. A couple of weeks ago I did a crazy ride in the peak district with some friends; 103 miles with 4000m climbing. Our average speed was less than 15m/h and we certainly weren’t hanging around. I guess that says it all! One of the best days out on a bike I’ve ever had. I’m fit on the bike at the moment and am fairly certain this bike fitness will help my running come back pretty quickly.
In terms of ‘run-alternatives’ I give myself a few options.
I aqua jog, though perhaps I should call my version aqua sprinting. I’ve made friends (and enemies) with the breast-strokers in the slow lane of the public pool who give me bemused looks as I huff and puff and go nowhere fast while they swim up and down chatting. Who knows if my aqua sprinting is the right way of doing it but I figure if my running muscles feel tired when I get out of the pool it must be doing something. Every now and then I’ll use the cross trainer, though personally I think in most cases I’m better off doing an extra bike instead. But it’s a useful addition once a week and at least gives me the chance to catch up on the news. And when I was abroad I did some killer sessions on the stair-master (sadly there isn’t one in Cambridge but if there was I’d be on it!) Back in January on the Erdinger camp in Fuerteventura I even managed a 2-hour epic on this. The gym was full of some of the best pros in the world and there I was moaning and groaning and climbing stairs to nowhere for 2 hours. I actually did the same in a gym in Australia, though in contrast this gym was full of morbidly obese people texting while walking on treadmills. I’m not sure which group of people gave me the most odd looks. But these were hard sessions. Harder than any long run for sure. So while not entirely specific to running they definitely gave me some physical and mental strength that carried over to semi-decent runs in the two races I’ve done.
Now I’m back in Cambridge I’m really lucky to have access to the Alter-G treadmill at Progress clinic which has been a godsend over the last couple of weeks as I gradually wean myself into running on the road. Very simplistically, the machine inflates a plastic bag around your body to lift you off the surface of the treadmill and ‘unweight’ you. It’s a bit like going for a run on the moon. By programming in the percentage of body weight you wish to run at you can very gradually increase your loading and hopefully build up tolerance without risking setting yourself back by an over-optimistic and too early run outside. So I started with a short run at 50% body weight and gradually built up to an hour at 90% body weight before trying to run outside.
On top of this I’ve added in an extra gym session and have dedicated a bit more time to rehab exercises, foam rolling and regular physiotherapy and massage. I’ve found out that when I’m injured I have far less free time than normal and it has made me appreciate the simplicity of being able to slip on running shoes and run straight out of your front door!
Right now, touching wood and crossing all my fingers and toes, I reckon I’m on the right track. So far I figure I’ve been pretty patient (though I guess patience is relative). My biggest challenge over the next few weeks is to stay patient and not do too much too quickly. Easier said than done. If the two pain-free runs on the road I’ve done so far were the start of many more I really would be the happiest person in triathlon. I’ve got a brilliant race in me that I need to get out this season!
By the way – if you enjoy reading these columns and feel in a generous mood I’d love it if you would make a small donation to the Teenage Cancer Trust on my justgiving page https://www.justgiving.com/lucy-gossage